More Than Friends Sample

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Prologue


It’s today or never.

There’s no backing out.

I’m doing it.

Despite the brave words, seventeen-year-old Amarie Parker was a nervous mess as she sat on one of the benches next to the entrance of the mall. Her eyes kept wandering around fretfully, her teeth were chattering, her fingers were gripping the strap of her purse with painful tightness, and she couldn’t stop tapping her sneakered feet. Still, her determination was unwavering.

I’m going to do it today.

She took in a deep breath to ease the tension wreaking havoc within her, but it didn’t help. Her insides remained coiled tightly, and the strange cold that had taken residence in her limbs did not ease.

Though the cold was mostly because of anxiety, part of it was because she was wearing a knee-length dress. She was a tree-climbing, pant-loving kind of girl. However, someone at school had told her that boys liked it more when you were feminine. They liked girls who were frail and looked like they needed help… not girls who they could ask for help. Of course that sounded ridiculous to Amarie. But she was just a virgin who’d never even kissed anyone… what did she know?

So she’d pulled out her best church-dress. She’d even stolen her mom’s lipstick and plastered it on while she was on her way here. Heels? Well, she’d tried a pair of her older sister’s six-inch stilettos. However, three wobbly steps and an almost-broken ankle later, she’d decided that falling flat on her face was uglier than sneakers.

He’ll like how I look, right? Her gaze lowered to her purple and white, flowery dress then swept back to the entrance. I hope he likes it. Him liking how she was dressed would make today’s mission much easier.

Where was he anyway? They were supposed to meet up at four so they could eat something before heading in for the five p.m. movie. It was now four-fifteen, and he still wasn’t here.

His lateness wasn’t strange. Ten years ago, his family had moved next door to hers. As soon as the two kids had formed a friendship, their roles had been set. She was the timekeeper in their relationship. The nerd. The good kid. The one who kept him from jumping head-first into trouble. He was the fun one. The jock. The daredevil. The one who convinced her to get into trouble. The one she liked.

If theirs was a teen romance movie, he would fall for her first. Slowly, he’d try to get her attention and charm her into liking him back. Oh, it would’ve been a lovely story.

But Amarie wasn’t that lucky.

She was the one who’d fallen first; the one who got caught in his web of smiles and niceness. She wallowed in her crush for two years, waiting for his gaze to change, for him to start looking at her as a girl rather than one of the boys. But he stayed the same.

Her crush was only bearable because despite his popularity, he wasn’t the Casanova type. Amarie was the only girl he kept around him. However, recently things had changed. He’d started to notice girls… correction… a girl.

If it was just any girl, Amarie would’ve sat back. But no, it was that girl.

Amarie couldn’t let that girl have her boy without putting up a fight.

Where was that boy anyway? Amarie turned her wrist to check the time. It was now thirty minutes past four. Irritation swept through her to meld with her nervousness. If he made them miss this movie, after all the weeks of raving and begging her to go with him, she’d break his legs… then confess her feelings by writing on his cast or something.

It was almost as if he knew she was thinking of him because right then, he strolled into the mall.

Kit Iseman. Seventeen but already over six-feet tall. Lankily built like a basketball star, which he was. Brown hair that fell to his neck messily, dark eyes that were constantly smiling, heavy brows, square jaw, handsome enough to make her heart skip several beats.

Amarie could look at him all day without getting tired. However, today, her eyes only lingered on him for a second before sweeping to his companion.

Piper Blanchard. Also seventeen. Cheerleader. Auburn hair, green eyes, nice smile… pretty enough to be the dream-girl of most boys in their school. Even though Amarie was wearing a dress just like Piper, somehow Piper’s yellow dress seemed more feminine, prettier, and happier. Plus, she was wearing dainty heels and skillfully applied makeup. She looked like a movie star.

And Amarie hated her more for it.

What was she doing here? Why would Kit bring her? Immediate anger and disappointment rushed through Amarie. Feeling her whole body already heating up with her anger, she shot up from the bench. Obviously, today wasn’t a good day to confess.

Amarie turned and started toward the washrooms. She planned to hide there for a few minutes, then leave the building once Kit and Piper were no longer by the entrance Unfortunately, she only managed five steps before Kit noticed her.

“Amarie!” Kit’s deep baritone rang behind her.

Pretend you don’t hear him. She took two more steps.

“Amarie! Amarie!” His voice was louder now, but she kept walking. Still, he was persistent. “Amarie! Amarie! Amarie!”

It was obvious that there’d be no getting away from him. With an irritated huff and a roll of her eyes, Amarie turned to face the happy couple. She didn’t even bother pretending to smile as she watched them move toward her. She just glared.

Kit must’ve noticed her mood because he wasn’t smiling either. If anything, he looked a little nervous as they headed her way. Piper, on the other hand, was all grins. She was smiling like a cat that got the cream. Judging from how she was clinging to Kit’s arm, he was the cream.

“Sorry we’re late,” Kit apologized as soon as they were within speaking distance.

Before Amarie could respond to that unsolicited apology, Piper jumped in with a tap of Kit’s arm. “We don’t have to apologize.” With a giggle, she eyed Amarie. “We’re all friends, right?”

No, we’re not. Most people would say that Amarie was too young to have an arch enemy. But that was because they hadn’t met Piper. Piper was a mean, spoiled brat whose only virtue was a pretty face. Friends? Maybe in an alternate universe.

Ignoring the girl, Amarie turned to Kit, her close-to-being-former best friend. Without a word, she glowered at him.

He got the message. Extricating his arm from Piper’s claw-like hold, he said, “Give us a sec.”

Leaving Piper pouting behind them, he led Amarie to a spot that was far enough for a private conversation. As soon as they were alone, he rushed in with, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t planning to bring her along.”

Even though Amarie had her back to Piper, she could feel the girl’s stare burning into her back, and it made her skin crawl. She folded her arms over her chest. “Then why did you?”

“She heard me telling Brandon where I was going so she asked if she could come along.”

She glared at him. “You could’ve said no.”

“You know I can’t.” Kit moved closer to set his hands on Amarie’s upper arms. Rubbing her bare arms soothingly, he said, “I just didn’t want to lose this opportunity. You know how it is.”

Yeah, Amarie knew how it was. She was planning to use this opportunity to confess her feelings too. Kit was planning to do the same thing… but to someone else. Piper.

Bitterness like bile shot up Amarie’s throat.

“I know you two don’t get along,” Kit pleaded, “but I-”

Amarie cut him off. “You also know the reason we don’t get along.”

“Because she bullied you?” Kit forced a smile. “You can’t call it bullying when you’re the one who beat her up.”

Amarie snarled. “I only beat her up because she was asking for a whooping.”

Even to this day, the incident was still enough to raise her hackles. They were ten. Piper, the popular girl, had decided that it was okay to bully Amarie because she looked different. Unfortunately, she’d chosen the wrong girl. Amarie might’ve been a quiet nerd but her parents had taught her never to take crap lying down. Fists had flown, hair had been snatched, and lips had been busted. Needless to say, Piper had moved on to softer targets.

“But that was such a long time ago,” Kit coaxed. “She’s changed since then. She’s nicer.”

No, Piper wasn’t nicer. She was just nice when Kit was around. Big difference.

“No, she is-” Amarie cut herself off as she realized that arguing with a blind, love-lost fool was a futile exercise. She shoved his hands off her. “Fine! If you want to watch the movie with her, then whatever. I’m going home.”

Kit grabbed her arm even before she could take a step. “Ri, c’mon. I know you wanted to watch this movie too.”

“Not badly enough to watch it with her.” Amarie turned to sneak a look at Piper. The girl was now tapping one foot, and it looked like she was about to come their way.

Kit dragged Amarie’s attention back to him. “Ri, please. If Piper and I end up dating, you’ll have to-”

Amarie immediately stiffened as her wide eyes met his. “You’re going to date her?”

“If she says yes,” Kit confirmed. His tone was soothing as he added, “You’re my best-friend. If Piper and I start dating, you’ll have to spend more time with her. I don’t want you to fight with her all the time.” He pleaded, “Can’t you just try to be cool with her? I really, really, really like her.”

And I really, really, really like you, Amarie wanted to say. But she just stared at him in disappointed silence.

“Amarie, please,” Kit coaxed. “Please.”

The way he was looking at her softened her. It made her anger turn into sadness. Why couldn’t he like her instead?

In that moment, Amarie realized that Piper being here was a good thing. It had kept her from making a fool of herself. Kit liked Piper… not her. Clearly, a confession would lead to rejection. A rejection would’ve made their friendship awkward, maybe even ended it. And she couldn’t bear that. Being friends was better than nothing.

It was time to admit defeat.

“Fine!” Forcing that one word from her lips was like pushing a boulder up a steep hill. It hurt. “I’ll try.”

His eyes lit up. “Really?”

“Really.” Though her heart was breaking, she kept her face expressionless as she reached into her purse. She took out their tickets for the movie and held them out. “But it’ll have to be another day because I only bought two tickets. You two should watch the movie together.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Excitement was written all over Kit’s expression as he added, “I booked an extra ticket while we were on our way here. We can all watch the movie together.”

As it turned out, ‘together’ was simply a euphemism for in ‘the same room’. Amarie ended up taking the extra ticket, thus settling several rows behind the couple. As she watched Kit whisper something into Piper’s ear and Piper giggle in response, Amarie couldn’t help tearing up. This was what she’d worn her best dress and braved the cold for? To be the third wheel?

Great. Just great.

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Chapter 1


12 YEARS LATER

“I’m serious this time, Kit,” Amarie, who was in a cab on her way home, said into the phone. “I’m out. I’m quitting.”

Kit’s booming laughter echoed over the line. “You’re not quitting.”

“Yes, I am. I’m quitting,” Amarie insisted. The cab driver shot her an amused look through the rearview mirror, but she ignored him. “I’m done. I can’t deal with Goldman’s crap anymore.”

“What did he do this time?” Kit asked.

“You know that I’m working with Sanderson on his mercury-poisoning case, right?”

“How can I not know?” Kit snorted. “It’s the only thing you’ve been talking about for the last month.”

“Yeah, well that jackass, Goldman, barged into our meeting today and demanded that Sanderson send me to him. Like I’m a package or something. He didn’t even ask me if I wanted in on his case.”

“Goldman doesn’t even like lady lawyers,” Kit reminded her. “Why would he want to work with you?”

It wasn’t strange that Kit knew about Goldman’s prejudices. He knew everything about Amarie and the people around her. He’d been there when she applied for law school. He celebrated with her when she passed the bar. He shared her excitement when she got hired by Morgan, Morgan & Bryant Associates. And he’d been her listening ear when she realized that being a lawyer wasn’t quite as exciting as Netflix made it seem.

“I wish working with me was what he wanted to do. But this is Goldman.” Amarie’s top lip lifted in a sneer. “He just wants someone to hand tissues to his divorce client. Apparently, my job is to console the woman and make sure that she keeps that callous, money-hungry jackass as her lawyer.” She complained, “This is the third time he’s pulled me out of a great case so I can be his handkerchief. I’m sick and tired of it.”

“Talk to Sanderson,” Kit suggested. “Tell him you want to stay on his case.”

“That’s a waste of time.” Amarie sighed heavily. “Goldman is the firm’s highest earner. Whatever he says goes. Plus, he likes rubbing his authority in Sanderson’s face. Sanderson can’t get me out of this.”

“Then talk to Goldman.” Kit offered, “Tell him you’d like to stay on Sanderson’s case.”

“I tried but he said-” She mimicked Goldman’s deep voice. “This isn’t a democracy, Parker. If I say I want you on my case, you come to my case. Got it?” Reverting back to her voice, she added, “I even tried getting him to agree to at least list me on the case. He just side-eyed me like I was out of my mind then walked away.”

“Asshole!”

“Yup!” Amarie puffed out angrily. “And that’s why I’m out. I’m quitting.”

“Quitting to do what?”

“To go into public service. Like you.” Dramatically, she announced, “It’s time to serve the people.”

Kit immediately burst into laughter. “Ri, stop! You love your big paycheck too much to work for the government.”

“No, I don’t,” Amarie protested. “I can be frugal too.”

Kit snorted. “All those Chanel purses in your wardrobe beg to differ.”

“I’ll sell them all,” she declared boisterously. “I’m turning over a new leaf. I might even relinquish all my riches and join a convent.”

“You can’t do that.” Amusement ringing in his voice, he asked, “Who’ll buy me expensive watches for my birthday? Who’ll pay for the plane tickets when we go on vacation? We can’t both be broke civil servants.”

“You make it sound like I’m your sugar-mama.”

“Well, isn’t that what you are?” he teased with a laugh.

“Gold-digger,” she mocked even as a reluctant smile pulled at her lips.

“We’re here!” The cab driver cut into the conversation.

“Oh!” Amarie immediately looked out the window. She’d been so engrossed in her conversation with Kit that she hadn’t even noticed that they were parked in front of her apartment building. Into the phone, she said, “Kit, let me call you later. I just got home.”

“Okay,” Kit said.

Amarie ended the call, then paid her fare and exited the cab.

The fifteen-story, mammoth, residential building that she entered sat smack in the heart of the city. Around it, city life pulsed; boutiques, fine dining restaurants, an opera house… everything you could think of was within walking distance. That, of course, meant that the mortgage payments for her condo were ridiculous. Fortunately, her paycheck was ridiculous too.

Yeah, Kit was right.

She was never going to quit her job.

She greeted the doorman with a nod and smile before making her way past the expansive, marble-floor foyer to the elevators. A young white couple stepped into the elevator with her, and she immediately recognized them as tenants on the floor above hers. She gave them was a smile and a ‘hi’ before training her gaze on the numbers above the door.

The elevator doors opened on the ninth floor, and she stepped out. Down the long hallway she went until she got to her apartment. She keyed in her code and the door opened.

As soon as Amarie got into the house, her spidey senses began to tingle and the hairs at her nape stood at attention. The first thing she noticed was that her house-slippers were sitting crookedly on the welcome mat. She liked her things ordered in a certain way… and crooked was not it.

But the slippers were nothing compared to the dull light coming from the kitchen. She was sure that she’d switched off all the lights when she’d left this morning. Worse, the house wasn’t as silent as it should’ve been. The hum of the washing machine punctuated the spooky silence.

Immediately, she stiffened. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race. Who was in her house?

Almost as soon as she had the thought, a shuffling sound cut into the uneasy silence. Footsteps. Fear trickling down her spine, Amarie took a step back. She intended to race out of the house, but before she could, he popped out into the archway between the hall and the living room with a grin. “What’s up!”

“Kit?” His name emerged from her lips in a gasp. “Oh my God. You scared me.”

“That was the intention.” Laughing, Kit crossed the distance between them.

The last twelve years had been good to him. Boyish cuteness had given way to potent, masculine charm. His dark hair was much shorter these days, and he now spotted a sexy five o’clock shadow. His long, pale, coltish limbs had given way to an athletic body corded with muscle because of his job and skin darkened by the sun.

However, a few things hadn’t changed.

He was still heartbreakingly handsome.

And he was still the boy she liked.

You’d think that a decade plus would’ve been enough to erase her crush on him. But no, it wasn’t. Her feelings for him hadn’t dulled. She’d just learned how to deal with them better so that he didn’t occupy her every thought. She’d gotten so good at concealing her feeling for him that over the years, she’d dated other people. Sure, those relationships hadn’t gone anywhere, but she proved to herself that she could be happy just being his friend.

Still laughing, Kit pulled her in for a quick hug. “You should see your face. You look like you were about to have a heart attack.”

His closeness was enough to make Amarie’s heart jump and to send warmth rushing throughout her whole body. Ignoring the instinct to bury her nose into his muscular chest so she could inhale more of his masculine, clean scent, she shoved him away from her. “You asshole! I thought you were an intruder.”

“How could I be an intruder?” With a smirk, he leaned against the wall to watch her as she hung her trench coat on the hook by the door. “This building is secure enough to host the president.”

“Stop trying to reason with me.” She kicked off her shoes. “You and I just spoke on the phone. You could’ve told me that you were up here.”

“And miss the fun of seeing you scared out of your mind?” He laughed. “I don’t think so.”

She cut her eyes at him. “You’re such a jackass.”

“And you’re still a coward,” he countered cockily.

“How did you even get in?” she asked as she started down the hallway with him at her heels. “I changed my code yesterday.”

“I figured it out.” He pointed to his head. “Your favorite numbers are all in here.”

“Is that supposed to impress me?” she asked while switching on the living room lights. “Because I’m not impressed.”

Though the two-bedroom condo wasn’t enormous, she’d made it look much bigger by going with bright décor. The living room walls were all white to reflect the bright light that came through the glass double-doors leading out to her balcony. The beige seats, light gray rug, glass coffee-table, and white TV unit added to the room’s clean and bright ambience. To give the room pops of color, she’d gone with magenta drapes and multi-colored throw-pillows. All in all, she liked her place.

And so did Kit.

He spent so much time here that even the building manager thought they were cohabiting. Most times, she didn’t mind him being around. In fact, she liked his company. However, two days ago, his nosy ass had found her tablet and the erotic mangas that she was currently into. What followed was unrelenting and merciless teasing that had driven her to change her door-code on him.

Given that he was in her house again, the punishment hadn’t worked.

Grumpily, she plopped onto the couch. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Laundry.” He took a seat beside her.

She frowned. “Why? Can’t you do it in your own hou-” She stopped talking. Narrowing her eyes, she turned to glare at him. “You forgot to pay your water bill again, didn’t you?”

Kit’s grin was an answer in itself.

“Kit! Kit! Kit!” She shook her head and sighed. “Your tenants will walk out on you.”

“They would never. I charge the lowest rent in the neighborhood.” Kit grabbed the remote control and began to flip through channels. “Besides, they’re out of town. I’ll have it reconnected before they get back.”

Unlike her, Kit had bought a two-story house instead of a condo. Since the place was too big for him, he’d refurbished the basement into a studio apartment and rented it out to help pay his mortgage.

“You need to start paying your bills on time,” she scolded. “Someday, it will bite you in the ass.”

“You’ve been saying that since we were twenty, and I still don’t have any bite marks on my ass,” he retorted. “Besides, this wouldn’t be happening if you were still helping me with my accounts.”

“I’m your lawyer now. Not your financial manager.”

“You could be both.” He coaxed, “Don’t you remember the sweet paycheck you used to get from me?”

Though Kit was great at making money, he was horrible at managing it. He was the type of guy who just let his money sit in the bank doing nothing. Back when they’d just started making money, Amarie had taken over his finances. For a small fee, she’d taken care of his bills and helped him build an investment portfolio. However, all that had stopped when his girlfriend at the time had blown up at Amarie for acting like his wife.

Instead of reminding him why she’d stopped messing with his money, Amarie scoffed. “That sweet paycheck is now mere pennies. You can’t afford me anymore.”

“Wow!” He shook his head disapprovingly. “Money changed you, Ri.”

“It sure did.” With a smirk, she added, “That’s why I’m going to charge you for the detergent you’re using to wash your dirty, smoky clothes. You used mine, right?”

Kit gave her a look of pure disbelief before announcing, “Well, if you’re going to be petty and charge me for soap, then I suppose I’ll have to charge you for dinner groceries.”

“You bought groceries? For dinner?” she asked. When he nodded, she grinned. “What are you cooking?”

“It depends.” He eyed her. “If I have to pay for soap… then nothing.”

“You know I was just playing, right?” She immediately turned in the seat so she was facing him and grabbed his forearm. “I would never charge you for anything.”

“That wasn’t what you were saying a second ago.” He lightly slapped her fingers. “Get your hands off me.”

“I was joking,” she coaxed. Sidling up to him so she could set her head on his shoulder, she coquettishly asked, “What are you cooking, Kit?”

With two fingers on her forehead, he pushed her head off his shoulder. “Nothing.”

Giving him her best puppy-eyes, she coaxed, “Kit, what are we having for dinner?”

He scoffed. “Not a damn thing.”

“Kiiiit,” she whined and pulled on his arm like a petulant child. “Cook for me. I had a hard day at work, and I need sustenance.”

“Then make your own sustenance.”

“Kiiiiiiit!”

His lips twitched and his eyes danced in amusement. It was obvious that he was about to surrender. He offered, “I might if you beg.”

She immediately obliged. “Pretty, pretty, please.”

“Tell me I’m handsome.”

“The word ‘handsome’ can’t even describe you. You have transcended handsome. Your hair, your face, your body…. God was having an excellent day when he made you.” Passionately, she added, “You’re so beautiful that the sun has to cover its eyes when it sees you. The moon shyly hides behind the clouds and giggles when you look up into the sky. The flowers sigh and bow down when you walk past because they know that they pale before your gorgeousness.”

“Stop, stop, stop!” Laughter punctuated Kit’s words. “Stop it.”

Knowing how bad he was at taking compliments, Amarie gleefully waxed on. “When you were born, the world stopped moving so it could pay homage to you for none more beautiful had ever been born. On your first birthday, angels crowded atop your parents’ roof to sing songs of-”

“Okay. Okay.” Kit lifted his hands in surrender and shot to his feet. “You win. You win. I’ll cook for you.”

With a smug grin, Amarie sat back in her seat.

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Chapter 2


Kit woke up the next morning with his stomach rumbling greedily because of the delicious smells seeping in through the small space beneath the door. Half asleep and only wearing his sweat-pants, he stumbled out of the guest-room and headed to the kitchen. He walked into the large space to find Amarie standing by the stove frying up bacon.

Given how she was dressed, it was clear that she’d been up for quite some time and had even showered. She was wearing a white camisole and one of those outrageously sexy, pencil skirts that she loved to go to work in. Okay… maybe the skirt wasn’t outrageous. However, the way it showed off her voluptuous backside and sexy legs was definitely illegal somewhere.

“Morning,” he greeted as he shuffled deeper into the room.

She turned to face him with a smile. “Good morning.”

The moment she turned, he stopped moving for a second. His eyes and body registered that there was no bra behind that white camisole. On a ‘smaller’ woman that would’ve been okay. But Amarie wasn’t a ‘small’ woman anywhere. The silky fabric molded deliciously over her ample flesh and jutted out at her nipples like a siren call for a man’s touch.

Kit’s mouth watered, his hands began to itch, and parts of his body that were supposed to stay asleep jumped in delight. She might be his best-friend but damn it, he was still a man.

His appreciation for her womanly assets didn’t go unnoticed.

“Ew!” Amarie yelled, her left arm rising to cover her tits. “What are you looking at?”

If it were any other woman, mortification would’ve made him stammer an apology. But this was Amarie. Strolling to take a seat by the island, he nonchalantly informed her, “You’re not wearing a bra.”

“And you’re not wearing a shirt,” she snapped. “You don’t see me ogling your boobs.”

“Hey, what can I say?” He shrugged. “I’m a boob-guy.”

“Go be a boob-guy on another girl.” And with that, she changed the topic. “Do you want your eggs scrambled or made into an omelet?”

He grinned. “Scrambled, please!”

This was why he loved their relationship so much. There was no awkwardness between them, no judgment and lots of support. She was the one person in the world whom he could show weakness to without feeling less of a man. The one person who knew all his secrets. The only woman he loved more than Amarie was his mother, and sometimes, even that was up for debate.

Had he ever thought of dating her? Of course! Only a fool would be blind to the fact that she was a beautiful, independent, and generous woman who would make a great wife. The only reason Kit had never tried anything was because by the time he noticed her, he’d already been friend-zoned. Also, he was too scared of losing her. His relationship track-record was appalling. The thought of Amarie being another one of his exes who he hated or who hated him was just too heart-wrenching. He needed her too much to risk a break-up.

She set his plate of bacon, eggs, and toast in front of him. “Coffee?”

“Yes, plea-” He paused for a beat. “Wait… why are you being so nice to me? You always make me get my own coffee.”

Amarie smiled. “I’m feeling generous.”

“Nah!” He shook his head slowly as he watched her move to the coffee maker and pour him out a cup. “Something’s up.”

“Nothing’s up!” she insisted as she brought his coffee to him.

“Thanks.” He took the offered cup but didn’t put it to his lips. He just held the cup and stared at her with narrowed eyes as she brought her own breakfast over and settled on the stool next to him.

It was only then that she noticed his stare. She arched her eyebrows. “What? Aren’t you drinking it?”

“Not until I know what contract I’m signing by drinking this coffee.” He demanded, “What do you want from me?”

She gave him a look of disbelief. “Nothing.”

But he wasn’t fooled. “Amarie!”

“Fine!” She arranged her featured into what he called her pitiful ‘please help me’ look, then in a small voice started, “Can I borrow Jason?”

His answer was as quick and instinctive as the snort that rose up his throat. “In your dreams.”

“Please, Kit. Mimi’s getting checked out and she’ll be out this evening, but I still need to move around during the day.” She coaxed, “Lend me Jason. I promise I’ll-”

He cut her off with a raised hand and a look of disbelief. “Don’t even bother.”

“Kit, please.” She set her palm on his thigh. It was an innocent action, but his body’s reaction was nowhere close to innocent.

Every muscle in his body became taut, and his cock swelled as if begging her to move her hand higher. But Amarie didn’t notice all that. Her wide eyes were on his face.

“I promise I won’t crash him,” she cajoled.

“That’s what you said last time.”

“Come on! That crash wasn’t even my fault,” she whined. “I was just trying to get into a parking spot and that douche tried to swipe past me. It won’t happen again. Lend him to me!”

If Kit was in his right mind, he would’ve said no. Amarie had only sent his beloved Buick Envision, Jason, to the shop once, but that was already once too many times.

However, her hand was on his thigh.

His brain backfired and sent the wrong message to his lips. “Fine, you can take him.”

“Just like that?” She took her hand off his thigh. Instead of smiling gratefully like she was supposed to, she narrowed her eyes. “That was easy… too easy. What’s the catch?”

“I’m not you,” he retorted, turning his attention back to his food. “I don’t do things with conditions.”

“Boy, please! We both know that’s a lie.” She lightly punched his upper arm. “Tell me. What do I have to do in return?”

“Noth-” he started then stopped. “Actually, you’ll have to drop me off at the fire-station before you take him.”

“What? No!” She gave him a horrified look. “I can’t wait for you to get ready. You haven’t even showered yet, and you take longer to dress than a drag queen. I’m not waiting for you.”

“That’s what somebody who had their own ride would say-” He grinned. “-But you don’t!”

“Wow! Wow! Wow!”

He stuck a forkful of eggs into his mouth, chewed then with a smirk said, “These eggs are delicious.”

She snarled. “I hope you choke to death.”

His response was a laugh.

* * * * *

“IF IT DOESN’T come back the way it looks now, I’m suing your ass,” Kit threatened as they glided into the parking lot in front of the fire-station an hour or so later.

“You can certainly try,” she dared him with a grin. “You remember that I’m a lawyer, right?”

“I changed my mind. You can’t have my car.” He leaned over as if to take the wheel from her hands. “Get out. You’re hiking to work.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.” Amarie laughed. “I’ll get it back to you just the way you gave it to me.”

Kit was about to give her more warnings, but just then, there was a knock on her window. Rapping on the glass with his knuckles was Kit’s coworker, Yves.

Amarie immediately rolled down the window to smile at him. “Hi, Yves!”

“Hi, Ri.” Yves’s smile widened. “I didn’t know you were dropping by.”

“I wasn’t planning to but this guy -” Amarie pointed at Kit. “- made me.”

Yves was a handsome guy even by male standards. Tall, built like an athlete, clear dark skin, and a toothy smile that had caused more fires than anyone could put out. Normally, Kit had no problems with Yves. In fact, they were cool. But seeing the man flashing his pearly whites at Amarie and calling her ‘Ri’ set Kit’s teeth on edge. Suddenly, he regretted making Amarie drive him to work.

“Well, I’m glad he did.” Yves’s smiling gaze was still on Amarie. “You look lov-”

“Ri.” Kit cut him off. “Aren’t you late for work?”

It was enough to distract her. “Shoot! What’s the time?” A quick glance at her watch and she yelled, “Get out, Kit. I need to go.”

Even though he’d been ordered out of his own car, Kit couldn’t help smiling as he got out, then grabbed his duffel bag from the back seat. Two minutes later, Amarie peeled off in a hurry.

“Man, she’s pretty,” Yves said as the two of them walked to the station. “You think she’d-”

“No.” Kit cut him off quickly.

“I haven’t even asked the question.”

“I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is no. Don’t even try it.” Kit’s steps quickened. “She’s off limits.”

Yves lengthened his strides to match Kit’s “I thought you said that you guys were just friends.”

“We are, but she’s still off-limits to you.”

“Why?” Yves asked.

Kit didn’t answer.

That proved to a bad idea because the man followed him to the bunkers, whining all the way. “Why can’t I ask her out? Why? Why?”

Kit dropped his bag in front of his assigned locker, then began to unpack his stuff.

But Yves refused to be ignored. He plopped onto one of the beds in the room. “Why can’t I date her?”

“Because I know what you’re like with your girlfriends,” Kit responded. Throwing a few clean tees into his locker, he ordered, “Take your eyes off Amarie.”

A sheepish look immediately filled Yves’s expression because he knew exactly what Kit was talking about. His trail of broken hearts was so long it could fill a highway. But still, he insisted, “I’d be faithful to Ri.”

“Don’t call her Ri,” Kit snapped back. ‘Ri’ was his name for her. No one else was allowed to call her that name.

“I’ll stop-” Yves grinned. “-if you let me date her.”

The glare Kit offered him was icy enough to make a smart man pause. Thankfully, Yves was a smart man. Hopefully, he’d stay smart because if he ever tried to seduce Amarie, he’d find himself flat on the ground with a broken jaw.

After unpacking, Kit headed to the gym. However, barely ten minutes into his workout, a call came in about a pile-up on the highway. In a flash, he and the rest of his crew geared up and rushed to their truck.

Though it was a four-car pile-up, there were few casualties and no fatalities because one car had absorbed most of the impact. Kit and his team rushed to that car to rescue the two men trapped inside it. He was so busy doing his job that he barely noticed the other people who were part of the incident.

It was only as he was walking around, checking on the paramedics to see if they needed any help, that he saw a familiar face.

She was seated in one of the parked ambulances with a blue blanket over her shoulders and a male paramedic examining her. For a second, Kit thought that he’d seen wrong. However, the closer he got to the ambulance, the surer he was that it was her. Sure, she’d gotten older and her hair was now shorter and blonde, but that face was still etched in his memories.

It was her. Piper Blanchard. The girl who’d walked away from him.

In an instant, his breath caught and every limb froze. Painful memories, like sharp knives slicing into his skin, flooded in. Anger swiftly followed. That anger was enough to unfreeze his feet. However, just as he was about to walk away from her, the paramedic noticed him.

“Iseman,” Eric, the paramedic, called out. “How is it back there? Are there other people we need to get to?”

Piper turned her head to see who Eric was talking to. The immediate widening of her eyes made it clear that she’d recognized Kit too despite his helmet and bulky uniform.

Pretending like he had no idea who she was, Kit turned his attention to Eric. “No, everyone who needs urgent care is getting it. You need any help in there?”

Eric shook his head. “No, I’m good. She doesn’t need to go to the hospital.”

“Okay, cool. I’ll go see how the others are doing.” Kit started to walk away.

Unfortunately, any hopes he had of quietly dodging his past disappeared when Piper called, “Kit?” He could’ve kept walking away had she not scrambled out of the ambulance. “Kit Iseman?”

Fighting to keep his expression impassive, he turned to face her. “Do I know you?”

“Yes, you do.” Smiling and sounding excited, she got out of the ambulance. “It’s me, Piper!”

“Piper?” He tilted his neck and narrowed his eyes in feigned confusion as he took her in.

In that instant, Kit realized that she was just as pretty and petite as she was in high school and college. Back then, her looks had been enough to make his heart beat so fast that it felt like it was trying to leap out of ribcage. Unfortunately, those looks had masked her cruel, selfish personality.

“Yeah, Piper. Your girlfriend in high-school and college.” The excitement in her expression dimmed and disappointment replaced it. “Don’t you remember me?”

That disappointment was enough to prick him and despite his intention to play dumb, he said, “Ah that Piper! I remember you.”

“I knew it. I knew it.” The excitement was back. She gave him a onceover, taking in his uniform. When she met his eyes again, it was obvious that she was impressed. “You’re a firefighter now?”

“Yeah,” he said. He ached to throw in a ‘No thanks to you’ but held back because he didn’t want her to know that their past still stung.

Memories of their last conversation swooped in. How she’d told him that she couldn’t be with anyone whose life wasn’t going anywhere. How she’d told him that she was too good for him and deserved better.

But that was all in the past. So he smiled and offered, “Look, I need to get back to work.”

“Sorry,” Piper immediately apologized. “Don’t let me stop you.” He turned again but only took a step before she stopped him with, “Hey, Kit. Can I get your number?”

She had to be kidding him.

Without even turning, he threw over his shoulder, “Sorry, I don’t have my phone on me.”

“But I can…” She said something else, but he didn’t hear her because the angry ringing in his ears blocked the sound of her voice.

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